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Acting like a champ

Sports

Issue: "Left behind," June 28, 2008

Rocco Mediate sat in the Torrey Pines clubhouse June 15 just one Tiger Woods miss away from a U.S. Open victory that would change his life dramatically. The 45-year-old had not won on the PGA Tour for six years and had only qualified for the open championship by the narrowest of margins.

Nevertheless, when Woods stood over a 12-foot birdie to climb into a tie for the lead and force a playoff, Mediate claims he never rooted against his friend-an almost believable assertion given the player's quirky and likable personality. Indeed, when Woods drained the putt, Mediate's reaction smacked more of childlike wonder than disappointment: "Unbelievable," he said, smiling and shaking his head. "I knew he'd make it. I knew it."

What no one else-besides Mediate perhaps-could have known was how strong he'd hold up the following day in an 18-hole playoff with one of the greatest athletes of all time. Despite trailing by three strokes with eight holes to play, Mediate stormed back to take a one-shot lead heading into the last.

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Still, in the heat of that moment, his unflappably gracious personality remained unchanged. When Woods hit a brilliant second shot into the 18th green en route to another playoff-forcing birdie, Mediate turned and applauded his competitor. And when Woods promptly swept aside the underdog on the first hole of sudden death to claim his 14th major tile, Mediate smiled and congratulated his opponent with all the character and class of a champion: "It was a great day for me," he said. "I can't complain."

Brown can't deliver

In what some horse racing insiders call the greatest flop in the sport's storied history, heavy favorite Big Brown ate the dust of eight other equines this month at the Belmont Stakes. The powerful thoroughbred looked more goat than colt as he eased in to a last-place finish, falling well short of the Triple Crown victory so many had labeled a done deal.

Thousands of racing fans watched in horror as their supposed sure-thing bets came up losers. But the sharpest sting of Big Brown's defeat fell on trainer Rick Dutrow, whose brash guarantees of victory had gone so far as to insult the competition. In the race's aftermath, rather than belly up with fork and knife to down his plate of crow, Dutrow lobbed shots at jockey Kent Desormeaux, who pulled up over the final quarter-mile upon realizing the animal had no kick.

Racing analysts rushed to Desormeaux's defense, and the experienced jockey likewise stood up for his ride, saying the horse simply did not have it that day. Thus Big Brown's lackluster performance remains something of a mystery, but Dutrow's character is wholly exposed-potentially damaging the credibility of the trainer, a prominent champion of injecting racehorses with steroids.

Ratings game

The NBA Finals' recasting of the storied Boston-L.A. rivalry did wonders for the league's television viewership. Last year's Detroit-San Antonio series drew a dismal 6.2 average rating. That number climbed by 40 percent this year as fans tuned in to watch the more potent offenses of the Celtics and Lakers.

Still, the NBA Finals remains the least watched championship of the country's big three. Since 2003, when pro basketball's title series left NBC and began airing on ABC, the games have averaged an 8.3 rating. Over that same span, baseball's World Series has drawn a 12.3 average rating and football's Super Bowl has posted a 41.8.

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